The world is offering some hope if you look for it. There are character-building lessons in every curriculum in public school. Children's TV shows abound with morality principles for getting along with others. Your purchase of everyday items can contribute to a just cause. The hummus you buy can fight mental illness.
Here's the HOPE hummus company promising to spread more than your chickpea mash:
"Together we can make breaking the silence on mental health possible. "
The meal replacement shake you order can give a meal to a hungry child in need (ironic, but true). There is no shortage of just causes in this world seeking to improve our planet and our lives. It's hope... of a certain variety.
But then when our churches come along and offer a kind of hope, often it sounds more like the jingle of a PBS show or an ad slogan. What kind of hope are we offering? We may think our hope sounds better or more appealing than the world's version of hope, but often it sounds exactly the same. Here's a few lines from a song I heard on Wishenpoof, an Amazon show my kids watch sometimes:
Let's make a difference in our world. Let's do something.
Give some money, give your time. Make a donation, show you're kind. No gesture is too small. So let's do something.
It's up to us to show we care when we do something.
So... was that pretty close to the last sermon you heard? And here's the thing- none of these slogans or songs or intentions are bad. They are immensely helpful. But when our churches offer a hope that stops at "Make the world better" they fall so far short of the Kingdom of God HOPE that Jesus offers through the Gospel.
Many Christians live with a definition of the Gospel that is so far short of what Jesus actually offers. Jesus offers a certain future, a hope of a coming Kingdom that is so much more than a life of service here on Earth. Many Christians live their religious lives serving others very well. But in their inner life and mind, many have no connection to the Kingdom of God that brings joy, healing, hope for better relationships, and an anchor when pain comes (because it will come in our fallen world and culture). Many Christians rake leaves with their small group, shake hands on Sunday morning, and then come home a fight daily with their spouse, drink away their stress at the end of the day, or simply shut off their feelings and bury them because they can't "trust" them.
When we offer hope in the style of a Wishenpoof song, but in reality, our inner lives and relationships are a mess, we need to pause. We need to stop the mad cycle in churches where we get people in the door, ask them to volunteer, find a ministry or activity they can donate their time and energy to, and call it a great God story. Chances are this person has been taught that serving is the way to feel better and please God.
They have been shown and modeled a Christian way where discipleship and the hope of a better life are found in doing things for God. This is a travesty.
Hope is actually a confident feeling about the future. This is the reason all our Wishenpoof-works fall so short. It's trying to create hope in the present tense. Hope in an action we are currently doing is, rather, a nice deed.
Let's call this type of hope a Mr. Roger's Neighborhood Action.
We do good in the world, we help our fellow humans, we love them. This is all good, but it's not true hope. We hope raking our elderly neighbor's leaves will create a better world, and then we see a pandemic hit, economic crisis, human trafficking... and all of a sudden it's not a better world. We pay for the car behind us to give them a free happy meal, but then what? Is our hope secure? Pain and sorrow inevitably come, simply because we live in a fallen world, with a fallen culture, and a fallen enemy. Your purse is stolen, your kids are hurt, you lost your job. Our hope seems busted and our emotions fall down and down. Now, I'm not saying these Mr. Roger's Neighborhood Actions of goodwill are bad. No, no, not in any way. They are great, they are needed. But when we do them and call them hope, we are only setting our sights on this world to be better. And TRUE hope cannot be fulfilled in this world. Our world will always let us down, and pain will always come.
So let's define hope a little different. A holy hope. A hope that is actually based on that reality that Jesus is going to come again and make all things new.
True, holy hope looks like this:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.
My friends, true, holy hope is a deep belief that Jesus will come again and recreate the Earth and the Heavens. Hope is a feeling of peace that comes when you trust in a loving, affectionate, trustworthy God that you cannot yet see and live as a member of His Kingdom.
These two realities are far beyond the hope offered by the world and its attempt to make us feel better with acts of service. When we put on this lens of holy hope, it changes everything.
It may look like
Less disappointment in a bank account balance, because you live as a member of the Heavenly Kingdom and the amount of money you have does not define you.
Less anxiety when the unknown variables in life don't add up. After all, you have a loving Father who is able to accomplish infinitely more than you could ask or imagine.
Your community begins to dive into the deep wounds in our lives, and as we talk and pray, healing comes. Oh yes, we are going to rake leaves together on Saturday, but that has very little to do with trying to please God so He'll make my life better.
Forgiving comes more quickly and deeply, because the life of Jesus is in you.
Trusting God with other people. He is more at work than you are.
Where is your hope these days? Is it in a Covid vaccine? (I'm vaccinated! But it's not my true hope!) Are you putting hope in a political party to bring about a more certain future? Perhaps you've realized you're putting hope in all your good deeds, wishing it will make you feel better and purposeful? Let's turn our eyes from this world to the next. From what is seen to what is unseen. From the world's attempts at a better present, to trusting that God's certain future is our true and holy hope.
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:18